Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Roswell in Context

One of the most oft-repeated claims of the proponents of the Roswell Incident as a crash of an alien spacecraft is that highly trained personnel at the 509th Bombardment Group stationed in Roswell, such as Jesse Marcel, could not have possibly mistaken a balloon, even if it was part of a top secret project like Mogul, for a "flying saucer," by which the Roswell proponents mean "alien spacecraft." In doing so, the Roswell proponents have committed two of the most grievous mistakes that anyone can make when conducting historical research - they have projected their own interpretation on to events, and they have ignored the context surrounding those events.

I have written about that context before, as have others. The Kenneth Arnold sighting, which received major media coverage, was still fresh in everyone's minds. While memes did not spread quite as quickly in the late 1940s through old school media as they do today in the Internet age, they could still move pretty fast, and they could sweep up a populace in hysteria (and other emotional responses), responses which could quickly take root. Flying Saucers were everywhere in the media in late June and early July 1947, to the point that we should not be surprised if someone - even an intelligence officer like Jesse Marcel, or an information officer like Walter Haut, both of whom would have been inundated with the same media sensation reports as everyone else - made a mistake in the heat of the moment when confronted with something that was a bit anomalous to them, and identified it as one of the "flying discs / saucers" that they had been hearing so much about.

It wasn't just the United States, either. Here is a front-page piece from the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia from 8 July, 1947, talking about flying saucers, both in Australia and also Canada.

Jesse Marcel and Walter Haut were not superhuman beings with perfect powers of observation, and an immunity to the broader social dialogue that was taking place at the time. Neither was anyone else stationed at Roswell. Any reasonable person can see this - certainly any historian of repute can recognize what was at work, not just in Roswell but world-wide. Sightings begat reports which begat other sightings which begat more reports which... well, you get how it works. This isn't to say that some of the sightings may not have been real; but the vast majority, and perhaps even all of them, were the result of a frenzy of interest whipped up during that time period by media reports. As it turns out, people who knew what they were talking about at the time recognized what was going on, as can be seen from the following article in The Daily Illini in Illinois a few days after the Roswell incident was reported.

The Roswell incident fits that pattern to a "t", which is why it was so quickly forgotten. It was only decades later, when memories had gotten shorter and the tales had gotten taller, that the story resurfaced and was mythologized by a group of UFO proponents who ignored the context of the original story, and who placed an interpretation on events coloured by their own belief systems.

Paul Kimball

No comments: